June 10, 2007

There's been a lot of talk about word-of-mouth online. I wrote an article a while ago and many people emailed me afterwards. It spawned quite a bit of conversations among colleagues, clients and friends. The overall feeling is that word of mouth online or offline is one of the most powerful vehicles out there. Do you agree?

First off I think there are some pretty vague definitions of what WOM is. I'd default to those provided by the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association. Although there are several definitions, I like the following: "The art and science of building active, mutually beneficial consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-marketer communications." According to WOMMA, word-of-mouth marketing empowers people to share their experiences. The basic elements are:

- Educating people about your products and services.
- Identifying people most likely to share their opinions.
- Providing tools that make it easier to share information.
- Studying how, where, and when opinions are being shared.
- Listening and responding to supporters, detractors, and neutrals.

I wanted to scratch below the surface of WOM online, as so many people were not super-clear on such factors as how to implement a campaign, what you can track versus what you should measure via WOM, barriers to entry, etc. So I thought I'd tap into some of the industry's top thought leaders. I went right to the top and phoned Walter J. Carl, Ph.D. board member of WOMMA and professor at Boston's Northeastern University. "The companies who will really benefit from word of mouth, whether it manifests itself online or offline, will be the ones who understand that it's a medium for understanding and insight just as much as [a] promotion, is consequential to the whole company and not just marketing, and is about being meaningful, relevant, and responsive to one's environment," said Carl.

So this left me with another set of questions. Is this a medium, or is this marketing? Or perhaps it is both? I dialed up Joe Chernov, director of Communications, BzzAgent, Inc. "Word of mouth isn't new media," said Chernov. "It's the oldest form of media. What's new, however, is that it can be measured in many of the ways that traditional media can be tracked." He then joined me in a conversation with the company's director of analytics Matt McGlinn.

I was happy that both reinforced the following ideas:

-- You don't have to have an established brand to implement a WOM campaign.
-- Campaigns are not cost-prohibitive -- probably not even for even the smallest of advertisers and marketers.
-- You can track the heck out of it -- but seek the counsel of the firm you are using. Don't overmeasure, because there are so many tools.

WOM is also a form of social media. I corresponded with Jim Nail, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. After reading his thoughts I realized I was going to have to write another piece on this topic. Nail said, "People are engaged on a topic over a period of time and are engaged in a mode of reacting and responding to the flow of the conversation. They relish this give and take, and the fact that their voices are heard, responded to and incorporated into the dialogue."

He continued, "Marketers are used to thinking in terms of campaigns: short-term programs that have start and end dates. So naturally, they first think about using this new medium for word-of-mouth or viral marketing campaigns. They want to send their message to a group of individuals who will then relay that message to others and so on. Then, the brand disappears from the dialogue until their next campaign. These campaigns work and can be effective, but they underutilize the potential of social media."

By Seana Mulcahy
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com


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